“I smell burning rubber” my wife casually mentioned, barely audible over the din of heavily accented English coming from the back seat where our two teenaged boys and two of their friends were reenacting their favorite scenes from the movie “Borat”. The six of us had crammed ourselves and all of our gear into our small German station wagon and were a couple of hours on the road to Schweitzer Mountain Resort for a week of skiing. The tires being the only possible source of this unmistakable odor, I pulled over onto the shoulder of east bound I-90 and did a quick inspection. The front tires checked out ok, but the rear tires, subjected to the greater than usual load now wedged into the wagon were rather severely under inflated and smoking somewhat alarmingly. Getting back on the road, we had nearly made it to the next exit for a shot of air when the left rear tire blew out. Cutting loose with a string of expletives, I pulled over again to the shoulder and began grimly unloading the wagon as the spare and jack were located in the well under the rear deck. With everything that I had spent hours carefully packing now stacked on the side of the freeway, I for the first time since we had purchased the car opened the small box containing the jack and was quite unprepared for what I found inside.
If you are used to driving American made cars, the jacks supplied with them are nearly unanimously self-explanatory objects. No instructions needed. They are simple and intuitive to use. What now spilled out of the small black box when I turned it over was a remarkable example of German over engineering. It more resembled a very complicated surgical rib spreader than any car jack I had ever seen. Dis-assembled in about fifteen parts, most of them plastic, none of which looked like it was capable of lifting a car off the ground, the box also contained a small booklet with instructions on how to assemble and use the jack. Opening the booklet, I noticed with mild disgust that it was printed in German. I don’t speak German. It was starting to rain.
Using the illustrations in the booklet, I managed to get the jack constructed in what looked roughly like the pictures supplied. Finding the small slot under the rear door, inserting and setting the jack, I instructed all to exit the car into what was now a steady rain. The jack seemed to be working fine and I took part of the load, loosened the lugs, and continued lifting. As the jack took the full weight of the car, I cranked the handle for all I was worth in the interests of getting the tire changed and the car re-loaded before the clouds really opened up. As the car reached the necessary height for the wheel to clear the hub, I noticed that the main support leg of the jack that pivoted around a pair of plastic pegs was beginning to spread a bit. Before I could react to this unwelcome observation, the plastic pegs sheared off and the car returned quickly and violently to the ground, squirting the jack out from under it like a watermelon seed between thumb and forefinger and into the middle freeway lane where it was immediately struck by a passing semi rig sending it hurtling eastbound in pieces. My earlier mild disgust was now evolving into an insane rage. The in my opinion unnecessary complexity of the jack and its accompanying introductory lesson in German were conspiring to showcase my ineptitude in the ability to perform this simplest of manly feats, the competent roadside changing of a tire, causing a veil of red to now descend over my field of vision. With four impressionable teenage boys and my wife looking on expectantly for a calm and reasoned response to this turn of events, I instead took a running start and hurled the lug wrench into the woods at roadside while at the same time losing my footing, falling flat on my back in the viscous goo just off of the shoulder. My watch band gave out at the same instant, and my moderately expensive time piece followed the same trajectory as the wrench into the thick brush. Witnessing such a mature and reasoned reaction to adversity, my eldest son exclaimed “That was awesome Dad!!” in a thick Khazak accent, his brother and friends laughing heartily in agreement. Regaining my footing, I made eye contact with my now soaking wet wife. She was wearing a look that said the preceeding fifteen minutes had been quite substantially less than awesome in her opinion. With no other course now available other than making that shameful phone call, the one normally reserved for old women or male hairdressers, I took the card from my wifes purse and dialed AAA. In the mean time my wife had instructed the boys to get back in the car. Opening the front passenger side door, she reached in and tossed me my ski jacket, then climbed in herself and slammed the door shut. Evidently I was to wait outside for the tow truck to arrive.
There comes a time in every mans life when he must embrace the fact that he is past the point of personally rescuing his loved ones with chest beating bravado and macho acts of self perceived heroism. That those around him care little in how certain tasks are accomplished, only that they are indeed accomplished in short order with minimal unwanted drama. I have reached this point in my life. Next time the tow truck gets the call immediately, and the jack remains under the rear deck where God and AAA intended.